Category: Science

The Domestication of Animals and Human Evolution

8232What can the changes that made cuddly pets from steely predators tell us about ourselves? What do differences such as pointy ears or floppy ears, a long snout or a short one, a protruding jaw or a child-like face, or the timing and pace of brain development tell us?

These are just a few of the characteristics that a convergence of views in the study of animal domestication may tell us about our own evolution as a species in the more distant past. Specifically, it has been suggested that a number of the unique anatomical, neural, developmental, social, cognitive and communicative traits that define our species may be attributable to selection for lack of aggression and to a process of self-domestication.

Join another fascinating exploration of ourselves as this symposium brings together researchers from a variety of research backgrounds to examine these concepts and to elucidate further the possible role of domestication in human evolution.

Watch CARTA – Domestication and Human Evolution.

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Michael Pollan: “Don’t buy any cereal that changes the color of the milk.”

8232This year, renowned journalist, author, and food intellectual Michael Pollan received the 2014 Nierenberg Award for Science in the Public Interest.

“Michael Pollan has shown that an English major can do great service to science in the public interest,” said Walter Tschinkel, one of many who introduced Pollan. “Science very much needs writers like Michael Pollan to bridge the gap between scientists and the wider public… to make science meaningful, relevant, and accessible… and just perhaps to influence people and public thinking about important social, philosophical and scientific issues.”

After receiving his award, Pollan sat down with KPBS News Editor, Tom Fudge and talked about everything from the lesson Pollan learned from a woodchuck, to the carbon problem, his love of food, and how to feed the world.

The problem of getting carbon back into the soil:

“I think the future, the next set of important gains come not from [seed] breeding, but from understanding the soil microbiome and manipulating that environment.”

His relationship with food:

“I enjoy food now more than I used to… I think I’m less self-conscious about my eating than a lot of my readers are… and I think I’ve made a certain number of people that you probably know insufferable.”

Healthy eating:

“Eating well is easier if you have some money, and that’s one of the real tragedies of the food system we have – that the cheapest calories are so unhealthy.”

One of Pollan’s “Food Rules:”

“Don’t buy any cereal that changes the color of the milk.”

The difficulty of political change:

“It’s very much in the interest of political leaders to have our food be cheap even if it’s unhealthy. When you get spikes in food prices, you get political restives, you get riots, you get revolutions. And every political leader understands this. So they’re willing to put up with a lot of negative side effects of cheap food, as long as the price stays down. And this, in a way, is the biggest impediment to changing the food system.”

Feeding the world:

“The goal is for the world to be able to feed itself. The idea that we grow all the grain and dump it on the rest of the world is incredibly arrogant.”

“There’s plenty of food. We’re now growing 2800 calories per person per day… That’s for everybody living on the planet. We still have a billion who are hungry. So quantity is not the problem with feeding the world. We have to look at equity. We have to look at who controls the land. We have to look at diet. We have to look at waste.”

Watch more of this enlightening interview: An Evening with Michael Pollan: Nierenberg Award 2014.

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What Part Neanderthal Are You?

8232Turns out, there’s a little Neanderthal in all of us.

• In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues unveiled the Neanderthal genome.

• Pääbo is a biologist and evolutionary anthropologist. He is also the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

• His research shows that Humans and Neanderthals interbred in the prehistoric past.

• Thus Neanderthal DNA makes up 1% to 2% of the genome of many modern humans…

• …Except Africans, who have no Neanderthal contribution. (Watch the video to learn why).

• Our Neanderthal relatives became extinct 30,000 years ago. See what other extinct forms of humans there are.

What makes humans human? Find out:

Watch A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins with Svante Pääbo.

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Eight (Really) Big Ideas in Science

8232Eight UC Berkeley Lab scientists present eight game-changing concepts in eight minutes each. You can watch one at a time, but once you get started, you might not want to stop.

Inspired by the problems of our time and the mysteries of the universe, these scientists are working to answer questions we may have never thought to ask – and they’re succeeding. For instance:

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a “Google” for materials – a way to enter certain properties and easily find materials that meet those properties?

What about Mass Spectrometry Imaging – what is it and how could it revolutionize medicine?

What does an atom really look like… in 3-D?

Can we generate electricity from viruses? (Hint: yes!)

What about materials? Can we put two materials together to generate energy?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a pill to treat people exposed to radioactive material?

Can computers be used to search for supernovae, the largest explosions in the universe?

And finally, physicist Ian Hinchliffe answers perhaps the most important question of all – why should we care about fundamental research? (He also talks about the Higgs…)

Watch Eight Big Ideas 2013 – Science at the Theater to learn more about the incredible work at UC Berkeley.

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That’s One Smart Puppy!

8232Hey! Do you want to know what causes magnetism, have a real sense of how small atoms are, or see that sometimes physics allows things that, well, seem like magic?

Or, do you just want to watch cute puppies and kitties?

Well, now you can have both!

Smart Puppy and Friends is a new series of short science videos for kids. (Hey, we’re all a kid inside somewhere, right?) With support from both the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society, the wacky duo at Not Too Serious Labs decided to turn science educa – er, I mean science entertainment on its head to bring physics and materials concepts like magnetism and quantum tunneling to unsuspecting internet visitors in search of cute animal tricks.

What? That’s cheating you say!? You bet! People looking for physics can find physics online — a lot of it. But people not looking for physics? Well, we don’t want anyone to miss out. So we’re putting a friendly, lovable and entertaining face on the sometimes intimidating subjects of physics and science in general. Who doesn’t like the antics of a cute puppy or kitten? And when it’s a lovable puppy and kittens that talk, the kid in all of us responds. Khan Academy it’s not – there are no long lessons. But you will still learn something… and you won’t even know that you did!

Watch Smart Puppy and Friends today!

If you like this, you may also like When Things Get Small from Not Too Serious Labs.

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